Beginning in late 1968, the wives and families stood up to the US Defense Department’s “keep quiet” policy and began to organize and go public about POW accounting and treatment. The movement spread across the US like few causes ever have. A major contributor to this effort was the famous patriot and businessman H. Ross Perot. By the fall of 1969 wives and families were confronting the North Vietnamese communist delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. Several of them with the sponsorships of charities and folks like Ross Perot, traveled to embassies around the world to meet with foreign governments to ask for their support—to help by putting pressure on the communist captors to abide by the Geneva Accords on the treatment of POWs and to provide a full accounting of the names of all POWs.
Most Americans still don’t know how much the POW/MIA support movement impacted the communist leadership in Hanoi and changed our treatment. In September of 1969 when their founding leader, the famous Ho Chi Minh, died and the new communist leaders emerged in Hanoi, they changed the policy on treatment of POWs. Within one week, the systematic torture stopped. They removed bricks covering the windows in many of the camps, and food improved somewhat. Overall, POW life shifted to become more of a live-and-let-live environment.
We knew this change was related to the death of Ho Chi Minh, who died in September of 1969, and the decision of the new leadership in power, but we did not know that the real underlying reason for the change was the strong support of the American people that was inspired by the hard work of our families. The bottom line was that the propaganda-focused communists did not like to be put in the world’s spotlight in such a negative way.
It was this shift in treatment that enabled us to have time to decompress from the horrors of the past. Locked up for three more years with fellow POWs who had been there longer and endured more harsh treatment, helped us put things in perspective. We had time to deal with our past and prepare our hearts and minds to return home to our loved ones. Amazingly, those last years of incarceration turned out to be a blessing. We came home ready to move forward and live a normal life. Our PTSD issues have been minimal, and our career and marriage success has exceeded our peers.